FAYETTEVILLE – After the arms of Elijah Trest and Zebulon Vermillion spelled Razorbacks relief, the bats of Heston Kjerstad and Christian Franklin spelled Razorbacks victory.
Kjerstad followed Franklin’s 2-out, ninth-inning single with a game-ending/game-winning 2-run home run over right for Arkansas’ 5-3 victory Sunday over the the University of South Alabama Jaguars before 8,463 at Baum-Walker Stadium.
Since his 2019 arrival Arkansas junior Preseason All-American outfielder Kjerstad, this season hitting .424 with six home runs, had done about everything for Coach Dave Van Horn’s Razorbacks. Everything except the ESPN vernacular “walk-off” home run that his mobbing teammates celebrated Sunday almost like their celebrations heading to the last two seasons College World Series.
“I’ve had a few walk-off hits, singles or whatever,” Kjerstad said. “But I’ve never hit a ball out to end the game. That stuff I’ve always I’ve thought about as a kid when I’d be in the backyard with my brothers or siblings.”
He did not follow Franklin trying to be a hero.
“You know I was just trying to pass the baton to the next guy, the guy behind you,”Kjerstad said. “Whether that was me drawing a walk or getting a hit or whatever. I was just looking for a good pitch to hit and get a good swing on it. It’s kind of surreal and just a lot of fun to be out there with the guys and celebrate that.”
Especially so after the once 7-0 Hogs had stumbled to 7-5.
So after the 5-game losing streak that started the previous weekend vs. Oklahoma, Texas and Baylor in Houston and continued at Baum-Walker Tuesday against Illinois State and Friday’s 13-6 loss against the Jaguars, Arkansas follows Saturday’s 15-2 triumph taking the series 2 of 3 from USA.
Van Horn’s Razorbacks take a 9-5 record into a 2-game series Tuesday night and Wednesday afternoon at Baum-Walker against Grand Canyon University before opening the SEC season in a 3-game series Friday through Sunday at Mississippi State.
Franklin, tripling in the first and scoring on Matt Goodheart’s sacrifice fly, and homering leading off the 2-run third that featured Kjerstad doubling and scoring on Braydon Webb’s 2-run single off USA starter Jojo Booker, and Kjerstad were the only Razorbacks with hits off hard-luck losing USA reliever Michael Noah throwing the Jaguars’ final 3 2-3 innings with the game tied 3-3 since the third.
USA scored all three runs off starter Kole Ramage. Ramage was lifted after six hits and a walk vs. four strikeouts.
Sophomore Trest relieved starting the fourth. He threw three shutout innings allowing just one hit and walks while striking out four.
Vermillion, logging his first win, struck out six without a walk for the final three innings.
“Great job,” Van Horn said of his relievers. “Trest kind of worked himself into a jam his first inning, I think he had runners at first and second with nobody out and he got out of it and then he came back and gave us two quick innings after that. Vermillion faced 10 hitters (one reached on an error. The only hitter that faced him twice was their last hitter. Both those guys can finish games for us.”
Of course Kjerstad doesn’t bat in the ninth without 3 for 5 Franklin’s 2-out single to left.
“Franklin has been our hottest hitter probably all weekend,” Van Horn said. “I was just hoping he could get on base to give Heston a chance. More than anything with Heston, I was just hoping he would hit one into the left-center field gap. That was really the only gap that was open.”
Well, it was open beyond the right field bench where left-handed hitting Kjerstad pulled it against the wind.
““That was a big-time swing,” Van Horn said. “Without the wind that ball shoots way out of the park down the line.”
Friday the Razorbacks didn’t get good pitching starting or relieving. The Jaguars were gifted nine walks and tagged 11 hits with three home runs, two monstrous clouts by No. 2 hitter Ethan Wilson off starter Patrick Wicklander and reliever Kevin Kopps.
Saturday starter Caleb Bolden righted the ship ahead 12-2 after six complete. Freshman reliever Will McEntire of Bryant earned Tuesday’s start against Grand Canyon debuting striking out four in two perfect innings.
Arkansas totaled 18 hits Saturday including Curtis Washington and Cole Austin home runs off the bench.
Kjerstad and Franklin warmed up for Sunday’s heroics respectively going 2 for 3 with 3 RBI and 2 for 4 with an RBI on Saturday.
With his triple, home run and single, Franklin was a double away Sunday from hitting for the cycle.
“Yeah when we were in the outfield Kjerstad said something about hitting for the cycle and I told him that he jinxed it” Franklin said laughing.
He was never so happy to be jinxed.
South Alabama …102 000 000 – 3 7 2
Arkansas…………102 000 002 – 5 6 1
Booker, Noah (6) and Sorrenti, Ramage, Trest (4), Vermillion (7) and Opitz.
HR-Arkansas: Franklin (3).
W-Vermillion (1-0). L-Noah (0-1)
South Alabama…100 001 000 – 2 4 1
Arkansas………..131 052 03x – 15 18 0
Smith, Trussell (3), Yarborough (5) and Powers, Sorrenti (6). Bolden, McEntire (7), Adams (9) and Opitz, Tamez (8)
HR-Arkansas: Austin (1). Washington (1).
W-Bolden (1-0). L-Smith (0-2)
South Alabama…320 322 100 – 13 11 0
Arkansas………..102 010 101 – 6 10 1
Nightengale, Dalton (7) and Powers; Wicklander, Kopps (4), Pallette (5), Adamiak (7), Taylor (8) and Opitz.
HR-South Alabama: Sandle (1). Wilson, 2 (2) (3). HR-Arkansas: Goodheart (2).
W-Nightengale (1-0). L-Wicklander (2-2).
Photos courtesy of Craven Whitlow, CW3 Sports Action